The One Area Every MLB Contender Must Still Improve Before 2017 Season
Spring training is on the horizon—squint and you can see it through the winter haze. Still, every MLB contender has weaknesses to address before bats and balls start cracking and the smell of cut grass wafts on the breeze.
For some, it's minor tinkering. For others, it's a glaring hole to be filled. Everyone needs something, however. It's the nature of the offseason.
As we wait for the hot stove to kick out more sparks, let's run down the list. Again, we're focusing only on legitimate contenders, not sellers or franchises in the midst of a rebuild. (There were admittedly a few borderline cases; sorry, Arizona Diamondbacks fans.) Also, to reiterate, we're picking one pressing need per club.
Tap some pine tar off your helmet and step into the box when ready.
American League West
Need: Left-handed reliever
The Astros have bolstered their offense this winter with veterans Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. They could still use another starting pitcher, hence the persistent Jose Quintana rumors. Houston's most obvious need, however, is another left-handed reliever.
Tony Sipp is currently the Astros' top southpaw option, and he's coming off a down season that saw him post a 4.95 ERA in 43.2 innings. Fortunately for Houston, a number of solid options remain on the market, including Jerry Blevins, Boone Logan and J.P. Howell.
Another interesting possibility is 29-year-old Travis Wood, who appeared in 77 games as a reliever for the Chicago Cubs last season and posted a 2.95 ERA but also has experience as a starter.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have put together a quietly productive offseason and could slip back into the postseason picture after a disastrous 2016 season.
They need insurance for the ninth inning, however. Huston Street was a steaming mess as he battled injuries and posted a 6.45 ERA. Andrew Bailey picked up six saves in limited action for the Angels last season and is back on a one-year, $1 million deal. Cam Bedrosian has elite stuff but underwent season-ending surgery on his throwing arm in September to remove a blood clot.
The marquee names are off the board and were likely never in Los Angeles' plans. But second-tier targets such as Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, Greg Holland and Southern California native Sergio Romo remain unsigned.
Need: First base/corner outfield bat
On Friday, the Mariners traded Seth Smith to the Baltimore Orioles for right-hander Yovani Gallardo, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.
The move helps shore up the back end of Seattle's rotation but opens a possible spot for a bat, even after Seattle acquired speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson from the Kansas City Royals, per Bob Dutton of the News Tribune.
The M's may also have some need at first base, where they seem likely to rely on a lefty/righty platoon of Danny Valencia (who could also see time at third base) and Dan Vogelbach.
There are plenty of possibilities on the market, with Mark Trumbo being the most high-profile example. There's also Jose Bautista, whose list of potential landing sports is dwindling, as ESPN.com's David Schoenfield noted. For what it's worth, yours truly predicted Bautista would end up on the M's in early December.
Need: First baseman/designated hitter
After losing Beltran to the in-state rival 'Stros and Mitch Moreland to the Boston Red Sox, the Rangers could use a veteran first base/DH bat to augment youngsters Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar.
On Dec. 23, ESPN.com's Jim Bowden reported the Rangers were "front-runners" to net Mike Napoli, who hit a career-high 34 homers with the Cleveland Indians last year but became expendable after Cleveland inked Edwin Encarnacion.
Napoli spent two productive seasons with Texas in 2011 and 2012. It's a reunion that simply makes sense.
Non-contender(s): Oakland A's
American League Central
The Indians have a full outfield with Michael Brantley, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer in the fold. Brantley, however, remains an enigma after missing nearly all of last season with a bum shoulder.
"Our expectation is that he'll be ready for spring training," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said in late September of the former All-Star, per Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer.
Expectations don't always align with reality, however, and the Tribe would be wise to add depth. A mid-tier name such as Michael Saunders, who has experience at all three outfield spots, would be a nice fit. Provided, that is, Cleveland can find room in the budget after shelling out for Encarnacion.
Need: Left-handed reliever
Apparently, the Tigers are holding their pieces and going for it in 2017. It's a decision they could regret, as I noted. It's still possible they could turn into 11th-hour sellers.
Assuming they don't, they could use another left-handed bullpen arm to pair with Justin Wilson. With a maxed-out payroll, however, impact names in the Blevins, Logan and Howell mold could be a stretch.
Most likely, Detroit will roll into 2017 with what they've got and see how far it gets them.
Kansas City Royals
Need: Starting pitcher
As with Detroit, the Royals are stuck between a fire-sale and contention. They dealt Dyson and shipped closer Wade Davis to the Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler, but have thus far held on to other high-profile trade chips.
There's a Davis-sized hole in the bullpen, but the Royals' most pressing need is in the rotation, where there's uncertainty after the trio of Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura, none of whom is exactly an unequivocal ace.
The Royals did add a starter in the Dyson trade, acquiring 29-year-old Nate Karns. The 5.15 ERA he posted in 2016 doesn't scream "savior," however.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe name-dropped veteran right-hander Jason Hammel as a possible target. It makes some sense, assuming his price tag drops far enough.
Non-contender(s): Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins
American League East
Need: DH/power bat
If Baltimore doesn't re-sign Mark Trumbo and his 47 home runs, it needs to acquire some thump.
Rookie Trey Mancini flashed eye-opening pop in his brief 2016 debut, hitting three home runs and a double in 15 plate appearances. Counting on him, however, is a gamble.
One option for the O's is to bring back Pedro Alvarez, who hit 22 home runs in 109 games last season and would add a lefty bat to Baltimore's right-handed heavy lineup. Though, to be fair, the acquisition of Smith from Seattle helped address that issue.
Boston Red Sox
Need: Infield depth
The Red Sox are a pretty complete team after gilding their rotation with the Chris Sale trade and adding Moreland to the DH/first base mix.
Their biggest question mark is at third base, where they're relying on a comeback from a reportedly svelte Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval missed most of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery and has been largely awful (yeah, pun intended) in his two go-rounds with Boston.
Brock Holt provides some insurance at the hot corner, but the Sox could use more infield depth overall.
The Red Sox have sniffed after Trevor Plouffe, according to Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald. It's a good fit. Plouffe has logged big league innings at every infield position save catcher and hit .260 with 12 homers last season for Minnesota.
New York Yankees
Need: Starting pitcher
The Yankees got their closer in $86 million man Aroldis Chapman. There's still the matter of assembling a starting rotation that can consistently hand him leads, however.
Masahiro Tanaka is coming off a healthy, ace-like season. After that, it's creaky veteran CC Sabathia, hard-throwing but mercurial Michael Pineda and some combination of Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa and Chad Green.
All except Mitchell owned ERAs north of 4.00 last season, and Green has a grand total of eight big league starts under his belt.
The Yanks are a "longshot" to land Quintana, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. They should be in on other targets, though, including free agents such as Hammel and Doug Fister, who can likely be had on inexpensive, short-term deals.
Toronto Blue Jays
Need: Corner outfielder
With Saunders and Bautista both on the market, the Blue Jays need to bolster their outfield corps, preferably with a power hitter.
They could bring Bautista back, but that seems less likely with each passing day. A trade for the New York Mets' Jay Bruce could make sense for both sides, provided the Jays are willing to eat his salary and/or give up something of value.
Toronto signed Kendrys Morales to fill in at DH. They can't let Bautista and Encarnacion walk away, however, and not get another impact bat to close the run-producing gap.
Tampa Bay Rays
Need: Right-handed bat
The Rays have held on to their stash of starting pitchers and added All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, so it seems they intend to make a run in the crowded AL East, at least until the trade deadline.
Tampa Bay could use a right-handed power bat to slot in at designated hitter, first base and possibly the corner outfield to complement lefty swingers Corey Dickerson and Brad Miller.
That describes Chris Carter, who clubbed 41 home runs last season but is still dangling on the market thanks to his propensity for strikeouts and .218 career average.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times named-dropped Carter among several sluggers the Rays could pursue. He also mentioned Bautista, an intriguing if unlikely notion.
National League West
Need: First base
The Rockies' biggest winter splash so far was signing Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal. Currently, they have the former shortstop-turned-outfielder slotted in at first base.
It could work out. The Rockies have depth in the outfield with Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, David Dahl and Gerardo Parra, even if the latter two are questionable as everyday options.
Clorado, though, could use a power hitter who can log innings at first and allow Desmond to slot into the outfield and perhaps even serve as a Ben Zobrist-style Swiss army knife.
Enter the Mark Trumbo rumors, which have been gestating for most of the winter. Depending on the cost, Trumbo makes a ton of sense for Colorado. His main marketable skill is bashing baseballs deep into the air—and there's no place with friendlier air than Coors Field.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Need: Second base
Currently, the Dodgers' best in-house option at second base is Kike Hernandez, who hit a cool .190 last season.
Los Angeles has been engaged with the Twins on Brian Dozier, whose 40-plus-homer pop would be a welcome addition to the heart of L.A.'s order.
The Dodgers remain "the heavy favorite" to land Dozier, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale, though Nightengale adds it'll take more than prized pitching prospect Jose De Leon.
Los Angeles could pursue other avenues, including a trade for Rays infielder Logan Forsythe. Right now, though, Dozier is the best bet to plug a gaping hole for the four-time NL West champs.
San Francisco Giants
Need: Third base
This is a close call, as San Francisco also has questions in left field, where the inexperienced duo of Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker are slated to take over for free-agent Angel Pagan.
Mostly, the Giants need to add some pop after hitting the third-fewest home runs in baseball last season. Third base could be the best spot to do that.
The Chicago White Sox's Todd Frazier is one possible target. The Giants have "shown interest" in Dozier, who can also play third, per Heyman. Whether they have the chips to make it happen is another matter.
San Francisco could roll with speedy Eduardo Nunez and unlikely postseason hero Conor Gillaspie. Add the uncertainty in left, though, and that's two premium power positions the team would be leaving to a hope and a prayer.
Non-contender(s): Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres
National League Central
Need: Left-handed reliever
The defending champion Cubs are the most complete team in baseball, with young stars all over the field, a well-stocked rotation and a revamped bullpen bolstered by the additions of Davis and veteran Koji Uehara.
If we're picking for nits, we could note the lack of high-profile lefties in Chicago's bullpen, with Brian Duensing and his 4.05 ERA arguably the top southpaw.
The Cubs' pen is strong overall, and Uehara has excellent career splits against lefties. If Chicago is looking to gild the lily, though, this could be the place to do it.
Need: Starting pitching
Pittsburgh already inked Ivan Nova to join Gerrit Cole atop the rotation. Youngsters such as Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow also feature heavily in the Bucs' plans.
Enter the cliche about how you can never have too much pitching. Stir in a report from Rosenthal that the White Sox are engaged in "daily trade discussions" on Quintana, with the Pirates among those on the line.
Landing him would require the Pirates to raid the top tier of their farm system. Quintana, though, is a controllable, game-changing talent who's worth the cost and would propel Pittsburgh back into the playoff mix after a disappointing 2016.
St. Louis Cardinals
Need: Outfield depth
The Cardinals' starting outfield is set with newly signed Dexter Fowler joining the duo of Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk.
St. Louis' current fourth outfielder, Tommy Pham, has been injury prone, however. The depth chart behind him isn't especially inspiring.
One option would be to re-sign Brandon Moss, who hit just .225 for the Red Birds last season but cracked 28 home runs and could log time at first base in addition to the corner outfield spots.
Non-contender(s): Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers
National League East
Need: Starting pitcher
The death of ace Jose Fernandez left the Marlins reeling, and it created a gaping hole atop their starting rotation.
There is no one on the open market who could come close to replacing Fernandez, and the Fish's farm system is too weak to pull off a blockbuster trade.
Miami has added Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke but should pursue more depth from a pool that includes Hammel, Fister, Wood, etc.
Otherwise, the Marlins risk losing their contender status and falling below the rebuilding-but-emerging Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves in the NL East power rankings.
New York Mets
Need: Late-inning reliever
You could argue the Mets' biggest need is unclogging its outfield logjam by trading either Bruce or Curtis Granderson and acquiring a true center fielder. There's a solid case to be made.
New York, however, is set to lose closer Jeurys Familia for an extended period to a domestic violence suspension, per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News.
As insurance, the Mets should pursue late-inning arms from the group that includes Casilla, Feliz, Holland, Romo and Joe Blanton.
Seriously, though—they should get that outfield thing cleared up, too.
Need: Late-inning reliever
The Nationals lost incumbent closer Mark Melancon to the Giants. They whiffed on other high-profile targets, including Kenley Jansen and Davis.
Now, the defending division champs are staring at a collection of in-house options headlined by Shawn Kelley, who owns a grand total of 11 career saves in eight big league seasons.
The same list of options we offered for the Mets applies to Washington. In particular, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reported, the Nats "have had some interest" in Holland, a high-upside reclamation project.
No matter what, Washington needs to keep tabs on the available late-inning arms, past swings-and-misses aside.
Non-contender(s): Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies